Reviewing EWS Quota


    In News

    • A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court is examining whether the 10% quota for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) violates the basic structure of the Constitution.

    More about the News

    • Petition:
      • The Bench of the Supreme Court, hearing petitions against the 10 percent quota for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in government jobs and admissions, will examine whether the Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act, by which it was introduced, violates the basic structure of the Constitution.
    • Supreme Court has fixed three key questions for examining EWS quota:
      • Provisions based on economic criteria:
        • Whether the 103rd Constitution amendment can be said to breach the basic structure of the Constitution by permitting the State to make special provisions, including reservation, based on economic criteria.
      • Provisions regarding private unaided institutions:
        • Whether it can be said to breach the basic structure of the Constitution by permitting the State to make special provisions in relation to admission to private unaided institutions.
      • Exclusion of SEBCs:
        • Whether it can be said to breach the basic structure of the Constitution in excluding the SEBCs (Socially and Educationally Backward Classes)/OBCs (Other Backward Classes)/SCs (Scheduled Castes)/STs (Scheduled Tribes) from the scope of EWS reservation.
    • Creamy layer in EWS:
      • The question of creamy layer does not come in the economically weaker sections (EWS) quota according to SC, as it was meant to give quota benefits to the poorest of the poor.

    103rd Amendment Act

    • About:
      • The Parliament amended the Constitution of India (103rd Amendment) Act, 2019 to provide for a 10% reservation in education and government jobs in India for a section of the General category candidates.
    • Introduction of Article 15 (6) and Article 16 (6):
      • The amendment introduced economic reservation by amending Articles 15 and 16. It inserted Article 15 (6) and Article 16 (6) in the Constitution to allow reservation for the economically backward in the unreserved category. 
        • Article 15(6): 
          • Up to 10% of seats may be reserved for EWS for admission in educational institutions. Such reservations will not apply to minority educational institutions.
        • Article 16(6): 
          • It permits the government to reserve up to 10% of all government posts for the EWS.
    • State’s prerogative:
      • The Central government has argued that it was every State government’s, in the country, prerogative to provide 10% economic reservation in State government jobs and admissions in State-run educational institutions.
      • Whether or not to provide reservation to the economically weaker section (EWS) of the society for appointment in State government jobs and for admission to State government educational institutions, as per provisions of the newly inserted Articles 15(6) and 16(6) of the Constitution is to be decided by the State government concerned.


    Arguments favouring EWS Quota

    • Benefits of reservation: 
      • Government said it would not let anything come in the way of Other Backward Classes (OBC) and “poorest of the poor” getting the benefits of reservation.
    • The quota is progressive: 
      • The economically weaker sections have not reaped the benefits of higher educational institutions and public employment due to their financial incapacity. 
      • The quota is progressive and could address the issues of educational and income inequality in India.
    • Abysmal conditions: 
      • The reservation criteria should be economic because there are many classes other than backward classes who are living under abysmal conditions but cannot avail reservation and its intended benefits. 
    • Ram Singh v. Union of India (2015): 
      • In this case, SC asserted that social deficiencies may exist beyond the concept of caste (e.g. economic status/gender identity as in transgenders). 
    • The “quota-for-poor” policy: 
      • This policy is symptomatic of a larger failure. 
      • It replaces the principle that welfare should be the basic raison d’être of public policy, it hides the colossal failure of the state in handling questions of poverty and deprivation and, at the same time, it indicates a dead-end in policy-making itself. 

    Arguments against EWS Quota

    • Reservation based on economic criteria:
      • Reservation based entirely on economic criteria is not an all-in-one solution, though family income can be one of the parameters. 
    • Determining economic backwardness:
      • Determining economic backwardness is a  major challenge as there are concerns regarding the inclusion and exclusion of persons under the criteria.
    • Equality of opportunity:
      • In M. Nagaraj v. Union of India (2006), a Constitution Bench ruled that equality is part of the basic structure of the Constitution. 
      • The 50 per cent ceiling is a constitutional requirement without which the structure of equality of opportunity would collapse.
    • Financial burden:
      • The implementation of the quota is a challenge in itself as the states do not have the finances to enforce even the present and constitutionally mandated reservations.
    • Other:
      • It washes away the constitutionally permitted gatekeeping mechanism of social and educational backwardness and makes reservation available to everyone irrespective of social backwardness.
      • Reservation has also become synonymous with anti-merit, with the extension of reservation, this opinion might get further ingrained in the public psyche.

    Related Provisions in the Constitution

    • Article 16(1) and 16(2) assure citizens equality of opportunity in employment or appointment to any government office.
    • Article 15(1) generally prohibits any discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of religion, caste, sex or place of birth.
    • Articles 15(4) and 16(4) state that the equality provisions do not prevent the government from making special provisions in matters of admission to educational institutions or jobs in favour of backward classes, particularly the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and the Scheduled Tribes (STs).
    • Article 16(4A) allows reservations to SCs and STs in promotions, as long as the government believes that they are not adequately represented in government services.

    Source: TH